A Method to the Madness

Monarch Butterfly

One can only guess that news of the decline of the world’s largest population of migrating insects would drive a naturalist mad. So mad that they would rally fellow master naturalists and master gardeners into taking affirmative action. In 2015, Bob Lee did just that. His vision encompassed the entire state. It partly involved planting milkweed, the primary food source of the monarch butterfly, all over Missouri. As mad as it sounded back then, Lee gained the support of fellow naturalists, gardeners, and even public and private organizations. In fact, their collaboration resulted in the establishment of “Missourians for Monarchs”, a nonprofit organization that is now composed of 40 member groups and is backed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Farmers Association, Bayer, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Quail Forever, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Crazier still was the group’s strategy for promoting their mission of creating a safe haven for monarchs and other declining pollinator populations. Lee and members of the Confluence Chapter MO Master Naturalists organized a festival. This one-day-only event had a sole purpose: to educate residents on pollinators and the importance of planting native flora as food source and habitat for insects such as the monarch butterfly. Hence, the birth of “Monarch Madness”.

“The monarch butterfly became the festival icon since it had drawn worldwide attention,” explains the founding members of Monarch Madness. “But our overarching objective was to educate Missourians about all pollinators and the various native plants we can grow to serve as pollinator food source and shelter.”

The festival was held on the grounds of the Weldon Spring Site Interpretive Center from 2015 – 2019. Then, Covid-19 happened. In nature, a chrysalis enters a state of suspended animation when environmental factors, such as frost and winter, force a postponement of the butterfly’s emergence. Social distancing mandates forced Monarch Madness into its own chrysalis from 2020 – 2022.

This year, the planning team of Confluence Chapter MO Master Naturalists have deemed it time for the festival to spread its wings.

Monarch Madness 2023 will take flight on September 16 at the grounds of the renovated Weldon Spring Site Interpretive Center. The site now boasts of an impressive building and has expanded its native plant gardens. A picnic area has taken the place of the former interpretive center. What has remained untouched is the tall grass prairie surrounding the imposing disposal cell where Missourians of all ages will be allowed to catch monarch butterflies for tagging before these insects continue on their 3,000-mile journey to their winter home in Mexico.

Here’s what to expect at Monarch Madness 2023:

  • Free admission
  • Event is rain or shine, from 10 AM – 3 PM
  • Pollinator education stations (some for grown-ups, others for children)
  • Kid-friendly arts and crafts
  • Vendors: Native plants, nesting boxes and feeders, local crafts and produce
  • Food truck
  • Special activity: Catch and tag monarch butterflies with guidance from MO Department of Conservation

Bob Lee and his team have passed on their mad love for pollinator education and outreach to this year’s team of event planners: Tom Holt, Nicole Snyder, Alberta McMilligan, Martha Hessler, Aina Ferris, Joanne Keay, and Amanda Templer. As crazy as it sounds, these Confluence Chapter MO Master Naturalists and every individual in a bright orange Monarch Madness shirt you’ll meet at the festival, are all unpaid volunteers. Call it madness. Call it love.